Bulk shopping, endless drive-thrus, and red solo cups are all part of the all-American lifestyle. But hey, in other parts of the world, none of those exist. Because a thing that’s totally normal somewhere is, in fact, very abnormal elsewhere. Just like birds flying indoors in New Zealand, or the Australian love for one of the world’s most controversial delicacies known as Vegemite.
So, when one Reddit user posted the question “What was your biggest culture shock?” on r/AskReddit, it seriously resonated with people who flooded the thread with 3499 comments. We picked the most interesting examples of the cultural cold showers that will surely make us think twice about the things we take for granted.
And after you’re done reading this one, be sure to check out our previous post on rumors-turned-facts that non-Americans didn’t believe actually existed in the US.
Moving back to the USA I had reverse culture shock. How large our portions are, how fat we are, how high our standard of living is with such an incredibly low quality of life, the massive income inequality, the amount of homeless, the magnitude of our selfishness, how little we discuss art and science, and how we discuss things in a very competitive way so that there needs to be a winner or a loser in every discussion instead of finding common ground.
I moved from Europe to USA. How Americans idolize their politicians. These are public servants, YOU PAY THEM! your taxes pay them, THEY WORK FOR YOU!
I'm American and I had never left the country. When I traveled to Japan, I was seeing kids so often travel by themselves and leave their bags in places like at seats when they went to go order food, etc., without a worry of anyone stealing it. It was very surprising but also gave me a sense of safety I have never felt in the US.
Bored Panda reached out to Reddit user u/yehboyjj, whose response to “What was your biggest culture shock?” amassed 2.8k points and turned to be the top answer. The Dutch guy told us that the biggest culture shock for him after arriving to Canada was how huge everything was.
“In Canada, everything is bigger. The roads, the cars, the houses, the cities, malls, and the travel distances.” Back in the Netherlands, driving from the eastern to the western end of the country takes about two to three hours. Meanwhile, in Canada, the smallest distances take ages to get to. “What seemed like an infinitely small distance on the map took two and a half hours to drive,” u/yehboyjj said.
The redditor also said he initially was super surprised with the distribution of people around the city. “It seemed like the crowding that goes on in Dutch cities only exists in downtown Toronto.” Another culture shock for u/yehboyjj was how Canadians love spending more time together compared with families back in the Netherlands. “Plus sports is a huge deal for them.” u/yehboyjj added.
u/yehboyjj concluded that two weeks of vacation weren’t enough to get adapted to the Canadian lifestyle and he guessed it would take much longer to get fully used to their people.
American here and I lived in the Netherlands for a bit. The first time I went to the doctor and he had actually read my entire chart beforehand.
Oh, and then the total for my visit was a few euro. That was a pretty big shock too.
When a large Maori man asked to touch noses with me in greeting. The dude looked pissed until I manned up and was the first to touch noses. Then he had one of the best smiles I've ever seen on a mountain of a man. It lit up the entire cultural center.
Had a business trip to rural Alabama as a fresh college grad. I’m Canadian and had never left Canada at that point.
The blatant, overt racism I found there was absolutely shocking. This was like 20 years ago, no idea if things have changed since... I remember thinking that if I wasn’t white I would be in legit danger most of the time I was there. We took our client out to dinner and he asked the host to make sure we weren’t gonna be served by a black person, like it was a casual request no different from asking to sit by a window.
The term “culture shock" refers to the impact of moving from a familiar culture to an unfamiliar one, and is a common experience among exchange students, expats, and travelers.
Sometimes it comes with separation anxiety when parting with your country and the surroundings you know so very well creates a sense of loss. Many people who start living abroad experience heightened feelings of nostalgia and longing, similar to that when you break up with a loved one.
Many things can stir up culture shock, from food, dress, and weather to language, behavior, and cultural values. If you’re tired and under stress, even little differences can become truly nerve-wracking. But these inconveniences should not be confused with culture shock, which usually takes time to develop.
The sheer amount of nonchalant waste that Americans do took me off guard. They just... leave the faucet running or throw away food if it doesn't look perfect.
Coming from Europe, the public transportation in USA is absolutely rubbish.
Holidaying in Tokyo and watching 5 year old kids walk themselves home from school and catching public transport...all by themselves.
There are four main stages of culture shock that are known as honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. The honeymoon refers to an initial reaction which can be overwhelmingly positive. The journey may feel like the best decision of your life, but it usually doesn’t last long.
The second stage is frustration, which comes from not understanding the culture you've put yourself in. This is when homesickness and longing for home emerge, and sometimes these feelings can cause great anxiety, depression, and mood swings. So they should be taken seriously.
When I was 20 I moved to Newcastle, Australia to study (Spoiler alert I didn't study. At all). But before I went there I was told that in Australia they spoke English (Spoiler alert they didn't. At all). Every single word is abbreviated, everything is different, everything has its own vernacular. Example:
Me, "Hey Shane, I'm going to McDonald's, you want me to get you a breakfast burrito?"
Shane, "Oi Maccas Fair Dinkum mate! Had to ruck up early for the physio and me ute was out of petrol so stopped at the servo and asked the Sheila if they had brekky but noooouaahho just lollies so ive been getting aggro"
Dude, none of the sounds that just fell out of your head were words. Do you want a breakfast burrito or not?
That nudity was such a big issue in the US coming from Europe. I undressed to get into my swim trunks, all a matter of a few seconds, in the changing room and everyone looked at me like I had just murdered a kitten.
Barefoot people EVERYWHERE in New Zealand. In Starbucks, in the mall, on public transit, walking down the street. No shoes, no socks, no [damns] to give.
The third stage is known as adjustment, and it’s a gradual step towards getting finally used to your new surroundings. This is when you start getting more comfortable with your new culture and everything feels a tiny bit easier.
The acceptance stage is the last one, but it takes months, and sometimes years, to come to. After initial cultural challenges, you get some peace of mind and can truly enjoy your new life abroad.
So I’m norwegian, but I went to New Zealand for a year. The culture shock for me was how open kiwis talk, and how there’s no such thing as stranger danger. And as a typical norwegian introvert, it took a while to get used to. I’d meet a stranger and they’d be breaking the touching barrier right away and start talking about their cousin’s rash and all their weekend plans. Even bigger shock returning to silent Norway.
I lived in Tokyo my whole life before this. First day going to college in the States, I went to the gas station to buy something. I had a lot of $100 bills with me because I didn't have a card yet. The cashier literally told me, 'You shouldn't carry that many bills around. If I saw you with that on the street, I would rob you.' I was like, 'OK, thanks for letting me know?' This was six years ago. In Japan, people normally carry/use cash for a lot of things.
I'm a black South African, in my culture a woman doesn't leave the house for about a month after she has a baby. This is to avoid things like infections, bad spirits and so forth for both mother and baby. Also for the first month she doesn't do housework and must focus on the baby so usually family members come to live with them to help out. I was shocked when my English friend's aunt was cleaning the house and going out to shop for groceries a week after she had the baby and she took the baby with her. Not to mention she allowed a stranger to touch the baby which is a big no no in my culture.
In California, we have squirrels everywhere. Running around, climbing trees, getting run over.
We went to Puerto Rico for our honeymoon, where literal IGUANAS serve the same role. I've always been into reptiles and that was really cool.
At 21 I encountered people who took the bible as a history book. Including the creation in six days.
Blew my mind.
I was raised a catholic and we always were told that the bible contained moral stories, passed over through time.
I’ve been to Iran twice and they have this very elaborate and convoluted culture of hospitality. They say in Iran hospitality is an extreme sport.
So when you’re at someone’s house, you have to eat whatever they give you, and they will not stop offering, so you will be force fed until you’re sick. I found the only way to avoid this is to hold a full plate of food and pretend to be eating it.
If you compliment them on something, like a pretty painting on the wall, they will take the thing off the wall and give it to you to take home. Now this is where it gets convoluted, because they don’t really want you to take it. Yet if you refuse they will still act insulted. It’s all part of the show.
Recently moved to the US (9 months ago), and I am still not used to everyone asking me how I am doing. I am from Norway, and if the cashier asked how you are, you'd get embarrassed and wouldn't know how to answer.
India, when visiting a family on a business trip the head of the household interrogated me at length on why my parents hadn’t found a mate for my then-28-year-old self.
I’m gay. It was very awkward.
What is with American toilet stalls having the doors end like two feet away from the ground? Every time I took a [crap] I was half expecting to see someone poke their head under because of how much space there is
Dutch here. When we went to Canada, everything was HUGE. Big cars on big roads, big streets and restaurants and malls. I remember driving for what seemed like hours through suburbs, and I just kept thinking, 'surely after the next turn we’re out of the city', but the city just seemed to be endless.
My dad was a US diplomat so we moved to a new country every three years or so. I had never lived in the states (born in Portugal) and 4 countries later when my dad decided to retire, we moved to the US (Maryland). Being in America was the biggest shock. From the “safeness” I felt, to the way people were. Yellow school busses. Everyone sort of being the same. It was a shock, among many other things.
I felt American my whole life living abroad, being associated with the American embassy, hanging out at the marine club houses. And when I moved to the US, I did not feel very American at all
Turkish person who lived in Germany for 5 years. Germany gives immense importance to order and being precise. If you follow the rules, you'll live in harmony. When I came back to Turkey, that wasn't the case. Everything was chaotic and you needed luck and acquaintices to survive.
The only thing that really shocked me in France was how casually people talked about taboo subjects. I mostly had a huge culture shock when I came back from France. Caused me to be pretty depressed for a year.
I went to south Korea for a year when I was in the U.S. Army, and they refused to let us tip after a meal at any restaurant.
Not mine but in college I had a roommate from Australia who was studying abroad in America. We went out to dinner one night and I got mozzarella sticks. He could not believe we just deep fried cheese and then ate it
That Americans don’t have electric kettles. Or that I need to say electric kettle because if I didn’t people would say they have stovetop kettles.
In the Commonwealth countries a kettle is just a standard item for the house. I don’t drink coffee or tea and still own a kettle. You can get that for like $10 and they’ll still be decent.
I'm Canadian, and I was working in New Zealand. Birds indoors. This may seem minor, but it was so weird to see. When I got off the plane in Auckland, there were birds flying around inside the airport.